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A high-class call girl kills a customer in self-defense. To avoid scandal, her parents try to have her declared mentally incompetent. Not helping matters is that she is very distrustful of everybody, including her court-appointed attorney, and is very disruptive during her court hearings. Written by
Tony Berkoff <email@example.com>
[responding to MacMillan's grilling about her professional life]
Why don't we stop all the bullshit and get to the point? Now, you want to know what I do for a living? Ask me. My time is very expensive, Mr. MacMillan. Probably more than yours. I get 500 dollars an hour. How much do you get? I get four-hundred dollars for a straight lay, three-hundred for a hand job, and five-hundred for head. If you want to wear my panties, that's another hundred. You take them home, Mr. MacMillan, that's ...
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Though it's largely set in a daunting courtroom, Nuts tries to be more psychological mystery than legal dilemma, and for the better part of the way throughout, Nuts is startlingly gripping before it shamelessly tumbles into agonizing, even cringe-worthy sermonizing at the lugubrious and pedantic conclusion when Streisand serves a painfully affected monologue all in close-up. It's the household psychodrama between patient and shrink, except here a lawyer does the evaluating. Dreyfuss plays this intersection between Perry Mason and Sigmund Freud, Aaron Levinsky, court-appointed to represent Claudia Draper, a call girl who killed a john. The exhaustingly hostile Claudia longs to be tried, but the court is about to pronounce her mentally incompetent to stand trial. The judge, played with truthful and temperate keenness by James Whitmore, certainly merits that available seat on the Supreme Court. Seasoned and resolute as he is, the judge questions how this smart, well-heeled girl came to this. Her mother and stepfather, Maureen Stapleton and Karl Malden, seem to be ideal parents, and Claudia the indulged child gone strangely nutty. Levinsky, the intellect detective, prods for resolutions for this catch-22 that's quickly wearing his patience thin when he needs it most: dealing with her.
In another first-rate performance, Richard Dreyfuss plays the stunningly durable Levinsky. With infectious charm, he unearths some bleak skeletons from her cupboard, and in turn from those of Claudia's stepfather, her mother and her psychiatrist. This credentially surefire film, for awhile, seems like a plucky movie with an unpleasant lead who intractably defies bowing to the agendas, neuroses, or desires of anybody else. But by the end of Nuts, when the case has been decided, there's an unshakable sentiment of tackiness, that the antagonists were trumped-up sitting ducks the script contrives to be taken lying down. If all of psychiatry had been this undemanding, Freud wouldn't have been needed to invent it. The Brothers Grimm would've already taken care it for us.
But regardless, the unraveling of those details is executed so well. At the helm of such masterpieces of delicate subtlety and sensitivity like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Pete 'n' Tillie and The Front, Martin Ritt is efficient with the technique of the flashback that expands step by step, showing but an instant of a past event, then a little more, then ultimately the entire event. Two distinct bathroom sequences are divulged in this manner, one surrounding Claudia as a little girl, the other her brutal confrontation with her victim. Nuts culminates like a Broadway musical, but otherwise it's an absorbing character study, cadenced like a fine thriller. Ritt has always undoubtedly been a performer's director with a predilection towards oppressed female protagonists. Sally Field's Norma Rae, Patricia Neal in Hud.
Supported by a dignified cast, Streisand and Dreyfuss pair for the first time, but they work together like practiced dancers. He spins her and she laps up the ovation. And that's not uncommon for the controlling Streisand, who characteristically holds the fort on all her projects, but whether it's Streisand or Stallone, supremacy on a movie set only achieves either profundity or chaos. Eli Wallach is entertaining arcane as the psychiatrist. Stapleton is deeply felt, if way too broad, as the feeble mother, with Malden fluently overtaking his Am Ex stamp as Claudia's stepfather. Leslie Nielsen is every prostitute's dread as the client who insists upon and gets more than has been agreed to.
In the opening scenes, we are submerged in the dark-light worlds of the robotizing single-file lines and pencil-pushing procedures of the womens' prison and the crowded, busy courtroom. Director of photography Andrzej Bartkowiak's camera-work begins us in a stark rhythm and atmosphere. But unfortunately, Nuts is below the summation of its memorable parts. Regardless of all its strong suits, it's ultimately ineffective and vain inside. No matter their cred, Ritt, Bartkowiak, screenwriter Alvin Sargent never entirely follow through with their ultimate intent, setting inner integrity against social facades to compel us to determine what it truly means to be crazy.
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